Antibiotics are used for treating bacterial infections. However, antibiotics are ineffective against the viruses that cause colds or the flu.

During a cold, mucus often starts clear and changes colour to green or yellow within a few days. In bacterial infections, the mucus may be thick or yellow; however the colour of mucus does not tell you if the infection is bacterial or viral.

Taking antibiotics when we don't need them makes them less effective in the long run because the bacteria become resistant to the antibiotic.

Cold medicine

Cough and cold medicine, including decongestant tablets and nasal sprays are not recommended for use in children under six years of age.

If your child is older than six, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before giving them cold medicines.

Cough medicine

An irritated windpipe or excess mucus could be the cause of cough when your child has a cold. Although it may be unpleasant to listen to, coughing has an important purpose: it clears mucus from your child's airway.

You can offer your child frequent drinks of water to help keep their mucus runny and easier to cough up.

If your child is older than six, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before giving them cough medicines.


Breathing in the steam from a bowl of hot water is a traditional treatment for colds and is believed to help unblock nasal passages. However, it's too easy for children to be burnt or scalded, so this should be avoided in children.

Instead, to help ease their symptoms you could try the following:

  • Offer plenty of fluids
  • Use a humidifier (change the water daily)
  • Sit them in a steamy bathroom (under supervision)
  • Use a saltwater nasal spray or drops from your pharmacy

Resting, drinking lots of water, and choosing effective medicine (such as those that relieve associated pain or fever) are appropriate relief options for your little child when they have a cold or flu.

Colds and flu can cause inconvenience and distress during winter and other times of the year. It is important to choose treatments that can help relieve your child’s symptoms. Now that you've read up on what to avoid, check out our four tips on what you should do when your child is ill.